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Published in Instep, The News on Feb 8, 2010

I’d have to agree with Ashton Kutcher in hating Valentine’s Day. I hate it with a vengeance.

Valentine’s Day is when people in love start painting the town red. As if we didn’t get enough red on a daily dose of betel juice that is spat into public walls. But no, red to Valentine’s Day affectees symbolizes all those mush brained couples who like flaunting the fact that they’re in love…with each other. How corny is that…statement, not question.

As far as I see it, come February and ugliness as well as tackiness starts setting down in town. Lovers (and losers who just want to pose as lovers) start picking up on hints of red. Ladies will get red mani pedis. They will hint at being bought a new red jora. Red roses will start infiltrating florists and even poor gladiolas, that look best in pure white, will get an artificial dose of red dye to fit the Valentine bill. Red balloons, red banners, red candles…everywhere you look, you see red. If you’re a dried up old spinster…sorry, an emancipated, single career women…this overdose of red will be enough to push you to suicide.

Those in love see red but even cynics like myself see red, only as flashes of intense anger. I see red around this time every year. I see red that splatters like blood in tasteless window displays peddling cheap Valentine products. I see suicidal red in the yards and yards of red ribbons, which strangle dog ugly teddy bears (which actually remind you of the Gremlins) that glare at you with their beady little eyes. And I see red in the cheap plastic roses that pelt out digitally recorded notes of Elvis’ ‘Love You Tender’. And I hate it when women wear red on Valentine’s Day because not only are they wrapping themselves up as some man’s trophy but they are simultaneously putting immense pressure on some poor old bloke who’ll be scurrying around for some last minute shopping. That is a red alert situation!

I think it’s red alert because I’m not someone big on tradition, I loathe rituals and absolutely hate clichés. Valentine’s Day has to be all three rolled into one. When I see red in shops I think of danger. You’d have to agree there’s more to fear than fall in love with these days. If only we could replace the red with the white. That would be quite a breakthrough. White for peace and tranquility instead of red for love and affection. Anyone will tell you we need peace more than we need love.

And why the hell do we celebrate Valentine’s Day in Pakistan anyway, many of our elders argue. To the old and conservative guard, Valentine’s Day stands for lust not love. We live in the land of the pure where not even ‘halal dating’ (a term coined by British born confused desis, the BBCDs, implying dating that allows you to talk, not touch) is permissible. We’re aping the west to dangerous lengths, they insist. Ban lagao!

I’d have to disagree with them too. will confirm that enough boys and girls are (secretly) dating in Pakistan to qualify for the Valentine’s Day minimum. Hundreds of dozens of long stemmed roses are sold at the price of gold as soon as February begins. Designers put out red clothes that get zapped up by eager boyfriends and pressurized husbands. Chocolate sales go up on a vertical scale and come hail or storm, restaurants over run advanced bookings for couples celebrating over Valentine’s Day dinners.

And there my friends, is the only advantage of celebrating a horrifically tacky and clichéd day. In a country like Pakistan, where businesses shut shop at the drop of a hat, here’s one occasion that puts tills in a spin cycle. Ordinarily you’d scorn at a shameless appreciation of consumerism but in Pakistan, where even selling life to a dying man is becoming impossible, it is heart warming to see the hustle bustle and happiness that only retail can bring. And if that brief moment of happiness is to come through a day that is otherwise unbearable, then so be it!


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